Villages and towns throughout the European Union (EU) can register from Tuesday 20 March to receive a free Wi-Fi hotspot financed by the EU. The aim is for citizens in small villages, where 4G is not a given, to have access to the Internet. The WiFi4EU Project will cost the EU 120 million euro, the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel said on Tuesday.
The WiFi4EU initiative is a favorite hobbyhorse of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who had announced this plan in his State of the Union address in September 2016. The European Parliament approved it last fall.
The project aims to install some 6,000 Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the EU, providing “free, quality Internet” in public places such as libraries, parks or train stations, Ms. Gabriel explained. Communes or groups of communes can now register at www.wifi4eu.eu, while financial vouchers will be given out from 15 May. Member States must maintain the hotspots for at least three years and bear the maintenance costs.
A total of 1,000 communes will first be selected on a first-come, first-served basis. Each will receive a voucher of 15,000 euro with which they will be able to choose and pay an installer. To avoid a few Member States making off with the lion’s share of vouchers, each participating state with at least 15 installers will receive 15 vouchers.
Ms. Gabriel described the programme as an “initiative that will grant Internet access to thousands of Europeans and encourage local communities to bring connectivity to their inhabitants”, but the sceptics are a bit less enthusiastic. They feel that the 120 million euro are being thrown out the window and would be better invested in 5G.
The European Commissioner disagrees. “There are, in fact, territories where connectivity is already well developed, but in some regions, it’s not so easy”, she said. “There are big differences between towns and rural villages, and we wish to enable people living in these regions to enjoy quality Internet connectivity. We’re not going to cover areas that are already covered.”